In September we took our five kids on a holiday to Japan.
It was only brief; we stayed three nights in Osaka and three nights in Tokyo.
None of us had been to Japan before and the only one who spoke any Japanese was the 14-year-old who has been learning Japanese for the last two years at school.
We were all very excited to visit Japan but I did have some quiet reservations – would the kids eat the food, would we be able to get around without understanding the language, would everything in Japan be super expensive?
Visiting Japan with kids exceeded all our expectations. It was such a fantastic family trip to Japan and we would have loved to stay longer.
The Japanese people were so incredibly helpful to us.
People went out of their way to help us if we asked them for directions or assistance.
As you might guess from the title of my own blog, Planning With Kids, I am fairly keen on planning and organization. Japan is so well organized, clean and efficient making it so pleasant and easy to get around with kids.
There is so much I think that Australian cities could learn from how the Japanese run their public transport and the cleanliness of public amenities.
Traveling to Japan with kids doesn’t have to break the budget either.
Before we left for Japan, Caz and Craig kindly did a shout out on their Facebook page asking for tips on visiting Japan with kids and we picked up many, many great tips which helped us not only have a great time, but keep our costs down for the trip.
Be prepared for the flight to Japan
While we did have our flights covered through an arrangement via the blog, like we have done previously when we have flown as a family, we flew with a low-cost airline.
It might seem daunting to fly on a budget airline with kids, but it is completely manageable if you prepare for it well.
Make sure you know exactly what your ticket includes.
Most budget airlines include the fare only so you need to add in food, entertainment and comfort packages.
For the flight to Japan, food was a must for us, we did also choose the entertainment packages, but you do not necessarily need one for each person if they provide the individual iPads. They can be shared and you can always bring your own as well.
Even if you purchase the food option, I highly recommend taking along additional snacks.
Because if they like the airline food, which is never guaranteed with kids, they will most likely still need more to eat if they are like my kids. I made ziplock snack packs for the kids, which came in very handy towards the end of the flight.
Use public transport in Japan
The Backpack Traveller alerted me to the possible need for a Japan Rail Pass. If you were staying in Japan for longer than a week and were going to be travelling by train between major cities, a rail pass would definitely be the economical way to go.
You must buy them before you get to Japan. Check out this site for more information.
We had an internal flight booked to get us from Osaka to Japan, so with the small journeys we were going to be taking, we didn’t need to buy a rail pass, we just bought tickets at the train stations as we needed.
The Japanese public transport system is the best I have come across. The trains run frequently, they run on time and the trains and stations are all so well presented.
Even with no Japanese we managed to navigate our way around both Osaka and Tokyo. Don’t be afraid to ask station staff or other passengers politely for help. We did many times and everyone was fantastic at helping us get to our desired destination.
Plan what to eat in Japan with kids
Feeding five kids away from home can be very expensive.
We wanted to experience Japanese food, but also make sure the kids were well fed to be able to fuel our long days of sightseeing and exploring.
For the most part, this is how we planned our meals in Japan for the day:
- Hotel buffet breakfast – the reception staff at the Courtyard Marriott Ginza kindly gave us a voucher for the buffet breakfast, which meant we saved about $8 per person. We would have a later breakfast around 9ish and the kids would eat whatever they liked, with encouragement from me to add eggs and other protein to their breakfasts to fill them up. The big breakfast kept them happily well fed for hours, so was worth the price we paid.
- Snacks and water bottle – Each day we would stop by places like Family Mart and pick up snacks for the following day. This was inspired by the tip from Clare Tomonaga. We would buy things like popcorn, rice cakes, etc and we would have them 3-4 hours after breakfast. We brought our own large water bottles from home and took four of them filled with us when we left the hotel each day. As we were in Japan in September the weather was still very warm, especially in Osaka and with all the walking we did we needed to make sure the kids kept hydrated. Once kids start to get thirsty, the whinging starts and the wanting to stop happens. Preventive measures are best!
- Cultural dinner – As suggested by Besudesu Abroad we did try some regional specialities okonomiyaki in Osaka and Tempura in Tokyo. These were actually highlights for both adults and kids. This was really a two for the price of one deal; we were well fed and entertained at the same time!
Places to eat in Osaka and Tokyo, Japan
In Osaka, we went to Okonomiyakiya “Kiji” which is located in the “Takimi-koji” restaurant mall at the basement of Umeda Sky Building.
We went to the Floating Garden at Umeda first, then had our late lunch here. It is very popular among the locals, so I recommend visiting outside of traditional meal times. We would have waited for about 25 minutes before we were seated and had our orders taken.
Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savoury pancake and is so delicious. You can watch the chef’s whip up the Okonomiyaki and they serve them on a grill that is embedded in the middle of the table. You can see more about our fab experience here.
In Tokyo, we went to Shinjuku Tsunahachi and we also had to wait to be seated – probably closer to 40 minutes. No photos were allowed inside the restaurant, so unfortunately, I cannot show you the beautiful food we ate.
This was actually the first time the kids had eaten tempura and if hadn’t been for the price they would have easily eaten more.
This tempura bar was a little more expensive than others, but being able to sit at a bench and watch the chef’s prepare and cook the food was worth it.
The kids were completely fascinated by it and sat quietly for the entire time their meal was being prepared just watching it.
They also had a western menu with instructions on how to eat your meal which made life easier too.
Attractions and activities in Japan
This was one of the best things about visiting Japan with kids – there was so much to do and see that was either free or very reasonably priced. (With the exception of DisneySea that I write more about below.)
Nara Deer Park
Nara Deer Park – an absolute highlight for all of us. Thanks to Besudesu Abroad for the tip off!
We took a couple of trains to arrive at Nara station and it took us only 50 minutes. It is a 15 minute walk from the station to the park where not only can you walk amongst roaming deer but you can also see beautiful temples, all of which is free.
Osaka Castle – This was suggested to us by many readers and it was certainly worth seeing.
It is a decent walk from the train station, so make sure you have good shoes for walking and snacks and water for the kids if you want to spend some time exploring the castle and its surrounds. Kids were free and adults only JPY600.
Tsukiji fish market
The Tsukiji Market is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. The peak of the market activity is before 9am and tourists are not allowed in the market before that, but entry is free.
You are not allowed prams, large bags, open footwear, pets and on a sign at the front of the market, it also said, small children. We took all five kids with us, the youngest being four and we had no problems.
We were all fascinated by the buzzing and humming of the activity and how amongst the chaos of people and vehicles it just all worked without incident!
There is also an outer market selling goods and restaurants where you can sample the fresh seafood.
Video of the Fish Market:
Sumo Wrestling in Tokyo
Sumo wrestling – Tuna Maal added a link to the discussion on facebook which brought sumo wrestling to my attention.
We were so lucky that there was a Grand Tournament on when we were visiting. We bought tickets before we left Australia as these events are very popular and sell out.
Watch the sumo wrestling video:
Ticketing has a number of options and we would have loved to have a box seat, but the cost was prohibitive for us.
Single tickets were ¥3,600, while a box for four people was ¥36,800 and we would have need two. While we were much further from the action, we could still see very well.
It was great to see the traditions and customs that form part of the sumo wrestling.
Tickets allow you to stay all day, but we opted to attend only the last half. This was fine for the older kids but thankfully we had packed activities (and snacks) for the younger ones who found it a little boring after the first couple of hours.
Choose your Japanese theme park wisely
As were visiting both Osaka and Tokyo we had three options for theme parks – Universal Studios, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea.
Traveling Japan on a budget with kids meant we needed to make a choice about which theme park we would visit as we were only going to see one. Reader feedback as to which one we should visit was very much along these lines:
Chris Lewis Little – Okay Tokyo Disneyland is Magic Kingdom 100% but Tokyo Sea is the unique Disney experience for Japan. Where else will you get soy sauce popcorn.
I did further research and found that for the ages of our kids (14 – 4) DisneySea was the best bet. For younger kids and if you have not visited a DisneyLand before, it would be DisneyLand, only older kids and Universal Studios is probably better.
You could easily spend an entire day (until 10pm) at DisneySea, but we didn’t. As such to get the most out of it, we opted to miss the shows and parades and let the kids choose the attractions to go on.
We split into two groups for most of the day – three kids with dad who liked the more adventurous rides and two kids with me who wanted to take it a bit tamer. None of the rides are particularly wild though.
While it seems a little expensive to buy the refillable popcorn tub, it is an experience my kids loved and are still talking about.
DisneySea is organised into themed areas, all of which are highly detailed and well thought out (like Mediterranean Harbor, American Waterfront. etc). Each area sells a different flavor popcorn and the kids thought this was so great. We tasted strawberry, curry and black pepper.
Additional tip for Japan travel with kids – embracing the culture
While this isn’t a tip to save you money, embracing the culture of Japan will certainly enhance your visit to Japan with kids.
yTravel Blog readers were a great source of information on some of the cultural sensitivities of Japan:
- Chris Lewis Little – Just a note that Japanese don’t walk around and eat or drink, no eating, drinking or talking on the cell phone in the train.
- Besudesu Abroad – Stand on the right side of the escalators.
- Ellen Edmonds-Wilson – Alerted me to the fact that Japan runs mostly on cash. The majority of places in Australia take credit cards and that is what we are used to using so it was good to know we would need plenty of currency.
We really adored our holiday in Japan with kids.
Thanks to the yTravel Blog readers who helped make visiting Japan with our family so fantastic.
Plan Your Trip to Japan with kids
We’ve been traveling consistently for 17 years and have come to rely on a few trusted websites that save us money and time when booking accommodation, flights, and car rental. Below are our preferred partners:
- Booking.com has over 7,000 properties in Japan including hotels, apartments, and guesthouses. You get free cancelation on most rooms and a best price guarantee.
Flights to Japan
- Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).
Car Rental in Japan
- RentalCars.com is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Europcar.